Stricker wins Northern Trust moves to No 2

By Doug FergusonFebruary 8, 2010, 4:05 am
Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – Each victory is a reminder how far Steve Stricker has come in four years, when he lost his PGA Tour card and plunged to No. 337 in the world ranking.

His latest PGA Tour title – the fourth in his last 15 tournaments – raised questions about how much higher he can go.

Stricker won the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, just like everyone expected, even though Stricker might have been the only one who expected a six-shot lead to be so difficult to protect. His lead dwindled to two shots in a span of five holes, and only after Stricker made a 10-foot par putt on the 15th hole did he breathe easy.

Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker celebrates his fourth PGA Tour win in less than a year. (Getty Images)

“It was a challenge, to say the least,” Stricker said after closing with a 1-under 70 for a two-shot victory over Luke Donald.

The victory moved him to No. 2 in the world for the second time in his career. He also got there in September after winning on the TPC Boston, but that was when Tiger Woods was still around.

Now, Stricker effectively is the highest-ranked player who is competing until Woods returns from his self-imposed break while he tries to salvage his marriage from his extramarital affairs.

Stricker, as humble as his Midwestern roots, knows his place.

“We all know who the best player in the world is,” Stricker said. “I went down that road when he came out on tour. I tried to compare my game to his back in ’96 or ’97, and there was no comparison for my game to his back then. I’ll just continue to do what I do, and that’s practice hard and work at it and try to improve.”

That’s what he did after losing his card and failing Q-school at the end of 2005, cutting out the side wall of a trailer to hit balls into a patch of snow on a Wisconsin golf course. Just look at where it has brought him.

Two Presidents Cup teams. One Ryder Cup team. Earnings approaching $17 million since he lost his card. No. 2 in the world.

Is the comeback complete?

“Good question,” Stricker said. “I don’t know. One of my goals trying to come back was to obviously get my game in order and to win again, and I’ve done that. I hate to say the word ‘complete’ because I feel like I still have things to do. I came back from one part of my career that wasn’t so good to where I’m at now. But I still want to continue.

“I don’t want to quit what I’m doing, and I still work very hard at it.”

For a while, it looked as though Stricker might need a comeback to win at Riviera, a scary thought considering he started with a six-shot lead over Donald and J.B. Holmes.

The last time Stricker had such a big lead going into the last round was at the 1996 Western Open, and he went on to win by eight. That was too long ago to remember.

He felt defensive on the opening hole, the easiest at Riviera. The shot called for a 5-iron at the flag, yet Stricker wanted to be extra sure that he cleared the bunker, so he opted for a 4-iron that went into the rough behind the green. An easy birdie turned into a par.

He didn’t reach the second green, played away from the flag at No. 3, came up short at No. 4 and missed a 5-foot par putt.

“If I don’t win the tournament, you’re going to be looked upon as the guy that didn’t finish it off,” Stricker said. “Those thoughts run through your head, and the guys from behind, they have nothing to lose.”

Donald had his chances.

As Stricker was playing away from flags, Donald was aiming at them. He had birdie chances inside 20 feet on his first eight holes, converting three of them to cut the lead to two shots. Then came a tee shot to 10 feet on the six, and to 8 feet on the seventh, yet Donald missed both putts that could have really made Stricker sweat.

“If I got really hot with the putter, I could have maybe caught Steve,” said Donald, who closed with a 66. “He played nicely coming down the stretch, and I think he was a deserved winner. But at least I gave him a little run for his money.”

Stricker completed his third round with a 66 on Sunday morning of the rain-delayed event and was at 15-under 198. He was another good round away from matching the tournament record of 20-under 264 set in 1985 by Lanny Wadkins, the oldest scoring record at a PGA Tour event held at the same golf course.

Before long, he was worried about matching a PGA Tour record for blowing a six-shot lead, the largest ever (by Sergio Garcia at Quail Hollow in 2005 and Greg Norman at the Masters in 1996).

Alas, Stricker answered with back-to-back birdies at the turn, another birdie at the 11th after Donald holed a bunker shot, and suddenly, his lead was back to four shots. And then came more cautious play.

Only after he made the 10-foot par putt on the 15th did Stricker feel safe.

“My father-in-law always says there’s a defining moment when you’re going to win a golf tournament,” Stricker said. “And I think that was it right there. It allowed me to keep a three-shot lead going into the last three holes.”

Holmes shot a 67 and tied for third with Dustin Johnson, who had a 66.

Two-time defending champion Phil Mickelson didn’t come close in his bid to become the first player to win three straight years at Riviera. He closed with a 73 to finish 14 shots behind, and wound up slipping to No. 3 behind Stricker.

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”